What is a Mason Bee?
The name “Mason Bee” comes from the female’s mortar-like application of mud to seal off her egg chambers. Mason Bees are gentle, solitary, and non-aggressive bees, making them an excellent garden companion. They are tremendous early-season pollinators during the fruit tree bloom time. They can improve fruit set of nearly every plant within 100 yards of their home!
The Mason Bee Life Cycle
The female mason bee lives a solitary life, foraging nectar and pollen for her 30-35 eggs. Her adult lifespan is about 4-6 weeks. The male mason bee emerges from his cocoon for one exciting moment of spring mating, then perishes.
Mason Bees vs. Honey Bees
• Mason bees have more hair, and accumulate dry pollen all over the underside of their abdomen to scrape off later in the hive, instead of wetting and sticking the pollen to their legs like the honeybee.
• They are solitary bees with no queen.
• Female mason bees have stingers but rarely use them.
• They work in cool, rainy weather while honey bees remain in the hive.
• They have black bodies, enabling them to warm up in the sun faster.
• They are less susceptible to disease than colony forming bees.
• They have a shorter lifespan and die late spring.
• They produce no honey or beeswax.
A Few Available Housing Options
We carry the following structures for mason bees:
Teasel- An open structure with a nest of reed tubes.
Blockhouse- Five removable blocks with paper tubes.
See Saw Bee Box- Drilled holes for nesting directly in wood or inserted tubes.
Note: the teasel and blockhouses are hand-painted by 3rd graders at McCornack Elementary School.
Where To Place Your Houses
Place your mason bee houses in a south or east-facing location with access to plenty of morning sunlight. You don’t want your bees to bake in the afternoon heat. Be sure to place the houses about 8 feet off of the ground, and tuck them under an eave for rain protection.
Be sure to place houses near the food source (the plants/trees you want your bees to pollinate) as the flying range of a mason bee is short; anywhere from 100-300 feet. If you have a lot of fruit trees, consider placing several nesting boxes throughout your yard.
The female will need mud to secure her young in the nesting box, so providing a mud source nearby will deter her from seeking a different location to lay their eggs.
When to Put Cocoons Outdoors
We carry mason bee cocoons here at our store starting in mid-February. Each box contains 3 male and 7 female mason bee cocoons.
Place cocoons outdoors when the fruit trees in your neighborhood begin to bloom. Place the cocoon box in the attic of your mason bee house, or tape it underneath of the house, ensuring that a small hole of about 5/16” or 3/8” is open for the newly hatched bees to crawl out of.
Storing Your Cocoon-Filled House
In Mid-June when you no longer see bees coming and going, carefully store your mason bee house in a shed or garage, ensuring that it doesn’t overheat.
Potential Problem For Mason Bees
The hairy-footed mite (Chaetodactylus krombeini) also known as a pollen mite, is a common parasite found on mason bee cocoons, and can be detrimental to both young and adult mason bees.
While out gathering pollen, bees unknowingly pick up one of the hitchhiking female mites and bring them back to the nest, where the mite will lay eggs in the brood cells near mason bee larvae. The mites will feed on the bee larvae pollen stores, bee eggs, and larvae.
When mites infest a nest and adult bees emerge from the infected nest the following spring, the mites can climb onto bees and hitch a ride to a new location.
In the wild, mason bees rarely reuse the same nesting cavity. Having a thorough yearly “house cleaning” is quite important as a steward of these hard-working, wonderful pollinators. That’s all it takes to foster a healthy mite-free population for your overwintering mason bees, and promotes success for the next generation.
House Cleaning & Cocoon Harvest
A local source for mason bee house cleaning is the McCornack Elementary School. You may drop your bee house off in October at the school. There’s no fee or need to make an appointment.
The 4th graders at the school thoroughly clean the cocoons; removing any mites and accumulated debris. Your mason bee house will be cleaned and available for pick up as early as January.